If you're like me, you can probably think back to a time in your life when professional wrestling first came into your life. For me, I was raised by my grandmother. She was a very traditional, strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian. She was the type who commanded respect and taught me from an early age that every persons name began with "ma'am," or "sir."
She was a hard worker, who took care of her family by working in the southern Arkansas cotton fields until she was in her late 60's. She believed in structure, respect and hard work, there was no mistaking that much. Despite her tough exterior, she and I shared a common interest, one that we would share until she left this earth – professional wrestling.
My earliest memory of watching wrestling, was when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. My grandmother took me to the Mid-South Coliseum, in Memphis. We would actually go several times over the course of my early childhood years, which was right around the time that the remnants of the territory days.
Some of the names from back then, that I remember most, were of guys like Dr. Death Steve Williams, ‘Hott Stuff’ Eddie Gilbert, Kamala, Cowboy Bob Orton and so on. These guys had simple, yet very believable personas.
One of the main things I remember, which I know have such a great degree of respect for, was the fact that no matter where you saw these wrestlers at, whether it be at the show, in a grocery store, at the airport, or even at dinner with their family's, they always remained in character.
I can recall one instance when my grandmother and I went to a Mid-South event and following the show, we went to eat at a small diner, somewhere in South Memphis. While we were there, I remember seeing The Masked Superstar walk in, with someone who must have been his wife. When he walked in, he still had his mask on and even as he ate his dinner, he kept the mask on and devoured his dinner through that restricted mouth hole in his mask.
Kayfabe was more than just a loosely used wrestling term back then, it was a way of life and all of those greats from the early days respected the integrity of the business and they did everything they could to keep it sacred.
As I got older, I began watching WWF on television. I can still recall Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan working magic together in a way that has yet to be duplicated. Like most children of that time, I was a huge Hulkamaniac. I would stand in my living room and cheer him on as he took on King Kong Bundy, or Andre The Giant.
He was truly the first mega superstar I remember watching. But even as much as I loved rooting on The Hulkster, there was still one wrestler that meant even more to me than Hogan. That wrestler was Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts. Jake wasn't the most popular choice amongst my friends but I didn't care.
I was a Jake Roberts fanatic in every way. It was everything about him, from the subtle entrance, with Damien in the bag, draped over his shoulder, it was the evil grin he gave his opponent as be plotted his next move, but above all, it was the way he captivated the audience with nothing more than words.
Jake was a master of in-ring psychology. He had the unique gift of being able to make his opponent feel defeated before the bell ever rang. It was also the way he carefully arranged his verbiage, using a soft yet convincing tone to let the world know who was in control. One of the truest statements Jake ever made during a promo, was when he said, "If a man has enough power, he can speak softly and everyone will listen."
Jake was one of those superstars who never needed championships to define who he was. His legacy was etched by the way he kept the masses of fans on the edge of their seats in complete suspense. He was a legend without any sort of accolades or special recognition. Jake was a man's man and a legend, years ahead of his time. However, one thing that many of us didn't realize, was that Jake was fighting a dark, personal battle that he kept concealed from the world for many years.
As time moved on, it became painfully obvious that Jake was battling addiction and alcoholism. There have been many superstar recounts of how sloppy Jake was on the road, as well as in the locker room. Jake began isolating himself from all those who cared for and loved him. He had taken himself to a dark and extremely lonely place in life.
Throughout the late 80's and early 90's, Jake The Snake Roberts was a full-time fixture on professional wrestling's main stage. He ran highly touted feuds with the likes of Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ravishing Rick Rude and even The Undertaker.
Jake became not only a well known and highly respected in-ring performer but he practically reinvented the art of delivering a promo. He was easily one of the greatest talkers of all-time and would set trends for some of today’s best-known mic workers such as Bray Wyatt. Roberts has contributed more to the sport of professional wrestling than anyone has ever given him credit for.
As time went on, Jake’s hard life caught up with him, along with the damage he put his body through. Needless to say, he reached a point where he was forced to discontinue full-time wrestling. This is when his inner demons truly went to work on him. Now that he had the sudden free time, he didn't know what to do with himself, so he did what he did best at the time, he leaned on what had become a life of drugs and alcohol. Jake became notorious for no-showing at previously engaged independent events and even at the ones he attended, he would often show up heavily intoxicated, sometimes to the point of being replaced in his match. Jake had officially hit his rock bottom and while doing so, he was letting down his entire fan base.
Sometime around 2010, Jake’s family and close friends began reaching out to anyone who would listen, hoping someone could get through to Jake and convince him that he needed help. Unfortunately, their cry for help was falling on deaf ears.
That was until one particular call got through to a very special friend of his – one he hadn't seen in a while, but one who was not only willing to help...but eager to do so.
In late 2012, Diamond Dallas Page offered a hand to his old friend and it could not have come at a more critical time. DDP finally got through to Jake, convinced him to get on a plane and come to his Atlanta home, ensuring him he simply wanted to help, with no strings attached. In October of 2012, Jake took the first step in salvaging his life, by boarding a plane, bound for Atlanta.
When Jake arrived, it was clear he was limited on the number of days he had left if he didn’t made some immediate changes. Once Jake got off the plane, he couldn't even stand on his own two feet. His body was so badly deteriorated, that he needed assistance just walking from the terminal to the car. The once strong villain was now a shell of his former self. It was truly a sad sight for DDP to see his mentor in such terrible shape. Nevertheless, he was a friend and he was determined to help him reclaim his life.
The house where DDP lives is called the "Accountability Crib." It's a place where people, just like Jake, go to rebuild their lives, primarily with the help of DDP's widely successful program known as DDP Yoga. Dallas made it clear to Jake, that there was no miracle drug anywhere in the home and if a Jake truly wanted to get better, it would require a full 100% effort on his own behalf.
The tools and support was all in place, but the actual work was in Jake’s hands.
The first few weeks were difficult for Jake. He hadn't worked out in years and his health was a total wreck. Even the slightest move was work for Jake. But, something magical did indeed take place inside that Accountability Crib.
While Jake was certainly struggling and falling quite often, he never stopped and every time he fell, he got right back up. Over time, the workouts got easier and eventually, he was able to complete each workout in its entirety. Jake was finally winning in life, something that he had not experienced in years.
He finally found a way to be proud of himself and that was a missing piece of his chaotic puzzle that he had needed for a long time. He was doing all of this while being completely clean and 100% sober.
After Jake showed that he was able to function clean and sober, something else even more incredible took place, his family found their way back into his life and at last, Jake was able to experience the love of family once again. His life was coming full circle and all the things that ever meant anything to him, were all making it back into it.
Jake was experiencing what his life was supposed to be like and he was definitely not turning back now.
Jake also started sharing his desires with DDP. He was letting him know what he still wanted to accomplish in his newly reconstructed life and much of that included the WWE. Jake mainly wanted to get back in the good graces of Vince and the company.
Thankfully, this was a wish that came true and on January 6, 2014, Jake made his WWE return, during Old School Monday Night Raw. During his segment, Jake got a full entrance, Damien in tow. Once he made it to the ring, he laid the snake across the unconscious Dean Ambrose, much to the delight of the crowd.
Finally, after all the bad blood, all the hurt and all the pain....Jake The Snake Roberts was home, all thanks to the help of a dear, selfless friend known as DDP.
Dallas was also summoned to help another fellow legend who had also fallen into a deep rut. It was none other than The Bad Guy, Scott Hall. It too was tough work, but Scott stuck with the program and just like Jake, he too reclaimed his life.
So now, Diamond Dallas Page was responsible for saving the lives of two legendary superstars, who would have likely been dead by now, had they not allowed Page to give them the help that they wouldn't even offer to themselves.
To cap off this amazing story of life and salvation, Jake and Scott both took their rightful places in the WWE Hall of Fame, class of 2014. The once practically black-balled former stars were now a part of the most elite and exclusive fraternity in all of professional wrestling.
The once wounded and beaten addicts, who had isolated themselves from the entire world, were now standing in front their peers, being acknowledged as two of the all-time greats and receiving a standing ovation for their tireless work in changing their lives.
This is a story of how the power of forgiveness can transcend the mistakes made during a careless drug induced binge. This is a story of how a simple gesture of goodwill can lead to life saving changes of both the mental and the physical.
This is a story full of setbacks, sorrow, and disappointment, all leading to a happy ending. But, most of all, this is the story of how one man, Diamond Dallas Page, saved wrestling.
Thank you, DDP. Thank you for rebuilding our heroes and giving them another chance.Published 20 Dec 2016, 10:41 IST